A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog post called “Primary Parental Unit” which was recently reprinted on Role/Reboot. Prompted by the reprint request, I reread the original post and felt it deserved an update.
When we originally came west to Alberta from Ontario, our motivation was an exciting employment opportunity — not for me, but for my corporately accomplished wife. As part of the deal, I agreed to take over parental duties around the house.
That wasn’t a huge stretch for me. I had always been actively engaged as a dad and, to be completely honest, since having our twins my working life was no competition for my interest and passion in parenting. I embraced the role of “Mr. Mom”, while my “Mrs. Dad” left the house early each morning to slay dragons.
I relished the chance to prove my muster as a primary parent, but I wasn’t prepared for some of the challenges. That’s what the original article was about — coming to terms with the role of being a primary parenting dad among a sea of moms in a society that just didn’t get that I wanted to be doing this. And, of course, there was the laundry — oh, the laundry.
Two and half years later, life feels very different. The kids are a few years older and much more independent. Many of the moms are friends of mine and have long-since adapted to the fact that I am the one who plans the play dates and coordinates the after-school activities. I have been accepted, in a way, in our little circle of friends.
But something else has happened too. I have re-invented my professional working self as a social media strategiest and consultant. I am required to travel sometimes for work, so we have hired caregiving support. Now, I have a new dilemma. I could say to people I am a “working dad”, but that would be misleading in the traditional, normative sense of a dad working outside the home. It would be more accurate to call myself a working primary parent. A working Mr. Mom, if you will.
Like working moms, I have two jobs — one out of the home and the other in it. I plan my work days around school drop off and pick up times and I work flexibly so I can transport the kids to and from extra-curricular activities. I shop and keep the fridge stocked and plan meals with our caregiver.
So, finally, I have arrived at the four reasons why being a primary parenting dad is such a great way to go. And the reasons are:
1. Closeness with your kids becomes second-nature and lasts for your entire lives.
Being a primary parent was more for me than just a matter of convenience. I’ve always wanted to know my kids the way mom’s know their kids, not the way dads traditionally do. And I’m not dissing dads who work outside the home. It’s just obviously difficult when you’re the primary breadwinner and you’re out there working, traveling and stressing about bringing income into the home, to take the time to be the primary parent. Working moms are always told they can’t have everything and working dads are no different. You can’t be the one working 60 hours a week outside the home and also be the one working 60 hours a week inside. It just doesn’t work.
I love being the one who is present, the one the kids go to when they’re upset. I love being the one that’s there when they’re so happy they’re squealing with delight. I like knowing what they like most, and who their best friends are at school this week. There’a a deep intimacy comes from day-to-day familiarity and it’s wonderful to be a part of it.
2. Creates opportunities for women to pursue professional opportunities fully.
Dads need to take the lead on the home front if moms are going to have equal opportunities to succeed in the workplace. It’s as simple as that. We, as men, have benefited professionally from our spouses taking responsibility for our family lives. Increasingly, women have economic opportunities that equal those of men, but are held back by the outmoded expectation that their unique role is to care for the family.
If you believe in egalitarianism and the rights of women to equality in the workplace, then you need to step up and do your part. For contemporary feminists, male and female, the personal is indeed political. Our personal choices, our acceptance of responsibility for family, childrearing and homemaking as men and taking lead responsibility for these things, is how we change the world.
3. Balances relationships in fundamental ways that are off-kilter as a result of society’s biases.
Most successful relationships are built on a foundation of balance. No one is suggesting that most relationships don’t arrive at a fair division of overall labour, but that’s not my point. Roles need to be determined more by pragmatic realities of the situation and less by socially biased definitions of what is men’s and what is women’s work.
Domestic work is not, generally speaking, gender specific. Men are as capable as women at cooking, cleaning and caring for kids. This means, if your spouse is excelling professionally and/or has better opportunities or prospects for doing so, a man needs to step up and take the lead domestically. Assuming you both want a family life, this balance is needed to optimize each person’s role and the overall success of your domestic arrangement.
4. May suit your temperament better than working outside the home.
Men are socialized to work outside the home, while women are taught to be caregivers. Based on my own personal experience raising children, I would not deny that there seems to be a biological aspect to gender role development. Yet, the social streaming starts early in life when role-modelling begins and is relentlessly reinforced in various social and cultural ways throughout key years of personality development.
Despite all of this social streaming, we all develop our own personalities based on our experiences. And some of us men turn out to be excellent caregivers who are very comfortable in that role. And some of our female spouses turn out to be exceptionally competent and driven to succeed professionally — and this motivates them as much or more than being primary parents. Of course, they want families. But they also want professional success.
I, for one, wanted more from family life than the traditional working dad role appeared to deliver, so I went for it.
If I had it all to do over again, I’d do nothing differently.